Our top pick from the Winter 2007 Fancy Food Show is the line of pasta sauces from Divine Pasta. The Zucchini Saffron Cream Sauce on the lobster ravioli, above, is an eye-opening experience.
Winter 2007 Fancy Food Show
Best of Show ~ January 2007 ~ San Francisco
Each January specialty food retailers, gift store buyers, food writers and others pilgrimage to San Francisco in search of the newest products with which to tempt consumers. The Winter Fancy Food Show is the “smaller” of the NASFT’s* two main food shows: “only” 80,000 products and 50 long rows at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.
*The National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT.org) is the professional association for specialty food producers. Its 2,390 members produce nearly 180,000 specialty food products.
Walking nonstop from the moment the show opens until the moment it closes, it is possible to breeze past all of the exhibitors in the show, although of course, not possible to stop at most of them. Fortunately, after ten-plus years of attending this show, we seem to have tasted and/or reviewed the products at every third booth, so, much as we might like to stop, we move, ever in search of the truly exceptional products that we want to write about in THE NIBBLE.
After getting to the end of the very last aisle, our impressions are these:
- If you were visiting from a foreign country and trolling the aisles, you’d think that Americans live on salsa and barbecue sauce. There are a lot of product lines out there, and it takes a lot to be distinctive. (So if you were thinking of starting a line with your own great recipes, think twice.)
- The same with specialty teas and coffees.
- On the more newsworthy side, artisan salts are wonderful: companies are proliferating, still on the upswing and far from saturation. Americans should use more of them, and ditch the Morton’s Girl (even cooking water should be salted with kosher salt). More companies are packaging their salts, peppercorns and herbs in disposable grinders from companies like Olde Thompson. Look for them!
Some trickles, not trends:
- Specialty Cocktail Mixers. Following the success of category pioneers Freshies and Stirrings (formerly known as Nantucket Offshore), there are fashionable new entrants into the category, including Mixerz. With all-natural ingredients, they taste better than a lot of what’s out there...and open up a new line of gifts to bring hosts and hostesses. Why bring another bottle of white wine, when a snazzy new mojito mix may be more welcome? Wine Country Soda is adding some competition to the estimable GuS in the dry sparkling soda/mixer department.
- More “Wellness” Specialty Foods. The Republic of Tea, partnering with Luna Bar, the energy bar targeted to women, showcased a line of nutrition-enhanced iced teas and tea-infused energy bars for women. Alternative tortilla chips included our favorite, Spinny Chips made of spinach, from Metz Farms, a grower of spinach; a line from Corazonas made with whole oats and fiber; and others made with rice. Promising healthier snacking, these types of items have been in health food stores for some time: Now, they are seeking specialty food customers—and their pets. One company, Dogswell, has treats for dogs and cats that include glucosamine and chondroitin for joints, flaxseed oil for eyes, skin and coats, flaxseed and taurine for a healthy heart, etc. We like it: If we’re going to dispense a treat, let’s make it a treat that will help keep our loved one healthy (and stave off vet bills).
- Gourmet Jerky. More brands of jerky strips are being presented as gourmet snack food, one of which makes a teriyaki-flavored product targeted to kids. They’re O.K., but they can’t hold a candle to our Top Pick Of The Week, Gary West’s Gourmet Jerky—a product so fine you can serve it as a main course (and we do, with pasta).
- Caramels. Last year, it was an outcropping of toffees (still in force). This year, we noticed more gourmet caramels—most of them very good, and some, material for future Top Picks Of The Week.
- Indian Foods. After the Mexican salsas, India stood out as the country seeking to catch the eye of the specialty food consumer. We live in a town with a plethora of good Indian restaurants, but for much of the country, these ready-to-eat products may be an answer.
- More Açaí and Goji Berry. People take the health message seriously: açaí in juices and sorbets (the delicious line of sorbets from Belizza was our favorite) goji berries in trail mixes, energy bars, and available plain. The best piece of information picked up the show was that there are 40 different species of goji berry (photo at right). That’s why some taste all right and some taste terrible.
- Single Origin Cacao Ice Cream. You heard it hear first: A Pasadena company, Choctàl, is the first to debut a line of four chocolate ice creams, differentiated only by the origin of the bean. Currently there are pints made of beans from Borneo, Costa Rica, Ghana and Santo Domingo beans. We tasted them all, and while we like the concept, as plain pints of chocolate, we don’t think there’s enough differentiation to do more than confuse the average ice cream consumer—even those who normally would pay $6 a pint. With some tweaking, though, we think it’s a good idea. Points to Choctàl for being the first mover here.
Here trends were quite visible:
- Dark Chocolate. Chocolate, chocolate everywhere, even more, it seems, than at the last show, and almost all of it is dark. Lots of it is organic, and some of it is good. Unlike most organic foods, which often taste better than their non-organic counterparts, organic chocolate is often more rustic, less sensual. One reason is that it’s made by newer companies that haven’t had the many years of experience in making chocolate that, say, Valrhona has. Valrhona’s two organic bars are magnifique. Cacao nibs are big too, so if you like to eat nibs, do so: It’s where all the healthy polyphenols lie. Dagoba and Scharffenberger sell delicious nibs.
- Organics. “Are you organic?” was a question frequently asked by buyers, leading those manufacturers who are not to consider how the investment might enhance their business. In fact, the NASFT will have a separate organic pavilion at the 2008 show, in cooperation with the Organic Trade Association.
More Energy Drinks.
This makes us wonder if “energy drinks” are the new “low carb” fad. Every established cold drink manufacturer seems to have an energy drink now, and new kids on the block have come out with concepts hoping to become the next Snapple of energy drinks, and even Oregon Chai is introducing Energy Chai Tea Latte, adding “selected key energy drink ingredients” including taurine, caffeine, niacin and vitamins B3, B5, B6 and B12 to its sweet chai drink (should we anticipate energy coffee and energy juice boxes?). One brand debuted, positioning itself as (in our words) the energy drink for hard-partying young folk, in that it offered energy tonics for hangovers, lack of sleep, etc. At this point, it’s all marketing: We wish everyone luck. Our favorite energy drink remains Inko’s
: unlike many energy drinks, it’s absolutely delicious (as is their entire line of white iced teas), and packed with as much good-for-you stuff as the next can.
- Too Much Tea. The proliferation of “gourmet tea” is becoming noisome. There’s too much fancy packaging and not enough flavor point-of-view—i.e., bland tea. Just because it’s whole leaf, organic, etc., and packaged in a pretty mesh bag or other creative infusing device does not a great tea make. After all, Lipton is now selling whole-leaf tea in a mesh pyramid bag in supermarkets nationwide. If you buy a pretty-looking box of tea at your specialty food store or gift shop, brew it, and wonder where the flavor is, it probably isn’t your palate: The tea just isn’t that special. Anyone can buy bulk tea and package it. The finest tea is in limited supply, and available to those with contacts, like our favorite Chinese tea importer, Red and Green Company. They knocked our socks off with some of their rare imports, including a tea found growing wild, in small quantity, that was picked and processed by a great tea master. When you’re at the top of your game, it shows. Like drinking a rare wine, it’s a great privilege to drink their teas.
- A Sea Of Olive Oil. If olive oil is heart-healthy, we could have extended our life for 10 years by drinking the contents of the Fancy Food Show. It was as if the inscription on the Statue of Liberty had been changed to “bring me your olive oils, yearning to breathe free.” Oils from every olive-bearing land on earth were on display—huge offerings from California, Australia and New Zealand, Greece, Crete, Israel, France, Spain, Italy and lands less known for their oils. The challenge for consumers is figuring out what’s good and, more importantly, what, among the many styles and purposes of olive oil, is right for them. You can start to demystify the category by reading the articles in our Olive Oil Section.
And The Winners Are...
Our three favorite products from the show, which will be future Top Picks Of The Week:
Better than we could make ourselves, this divine line of sauces is so incredibly good, we could eat them out of the jar and forgo the pasta. The Zucchini Saffron Cream Sauce, shown at the top of the page, is an ethereal experience: you can’t eat better at the best Italian restaurant in the country. The Basil Cream Sauce shown at the right is another beauty...and even “basic” Arrabbiata and Puttanesca are better than you can believe. Until they come to a retailer near you, you can order them online. We may never make homemade pasta sauce again: these are just too good.
Belizza Antioxidant Sorbets
Açaí & Pomegranate Sorbets
Six sorbets—three flavors of açaí (Açaí, Açaí Banana, Açaí Mango) and three flavors of pomegranate (Pomegranate, Pomegranate Açaí,* Pomegranate Raspberry)—show that (a) açaí can be delicious and (b) pomegranate can have intense, wonderful flavor.
*Sticklers for detail: We’ll grant you that this is the fourth flavor of açaí, but we’re presenting the information as the company does.
Instantly transform meats, fish, vegetables, eggs, etc. with flavored butters like Basil Walnut, Black Truffle, Orange Honey, Porcini Sage and Tomato Chipotle. Available nationwide at Safeway Lifestyle and Target Superstores —check the website for more.
Almost no calories and kosher, too!
Our honorable mention goes to Whiffles, a product with great appeal to dieters, snacking infants and children that is new and in very limited circulation in the San Francisco area. Whiffles are crispy wheat cakes, about six inches in diameter by about 1/4" thick. They’re a cross between a rice cake and melba toast, and in our opinion, much better than either. First, there’s good wheat flavor and crunch. They’re tasty plain or with lowfat dips as a snack. Second, for only 19 calories, you get something the size of a pita bread, that’s a good bread substitute for open-face sandwiches. The only problem is lack of distribution, plus a degree fragileness: like eggs, they can crumble if they’re not on the top of the grocery bag. Whiffles are made fresh onsite at retail locations. Anyone looking for a franchise opportunity should visit Whiffles.info.
Congratulations to all who came and displayed delicious products. Those who have been mentioned in our “Best of Show” articles before can’t be mentioned again, but we enjoyed re-tasting every one of them!
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